Charlotte’s Quest recently became home to 25 American chestnut seedlings (Castanea dentata) as part of an effort to restore the nearly extinct tree to its native range.
The American chestnut was once a defining feature of the eastern North America forest. The tree, which could reach 100 feet high, made up roughly 25% of the hardwood forest from Maine to Florida. The chestnuts the trees produced were an important source of food for wildlife, livestock, and people. Its wood was rot-resistant, making it an important building material. However, in 1904 a fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was discovered on a chestnut tree in the New York Botanical Garden. The fungus was native to Asia, and it had little effect on the Asian chestnuts, but it decimated the American chestnut population. Within just 40 years, it virtually eradicated all mature American chestnut trees, altering U.S. forests forever.
Restoring the American Chestnut
Still, the American chestnut has not gone extinct. The blight caused by the fungus does not kill the tree’s root system, so trees will continue to send up new sprouts from their stumps, although the sprouts will eventually succumb to the blight.
Moreover, the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF) and other groups are working to restore the tree to its native range by breeding blight-resistant trees. ACF does this by crossing the American chestnut with the blight-resistant Chinese chestnut. Through many generations of careful breeding, the ACF strives to remove the Chinese chestnut genes except those that provide blight resistance. ACF is currently testing these promising new chestnuts.
Work at Charlotte’s Quest
In support of this work, Girl Scout Troop 1437 and Troop 939 and other volunteers recently helped plant 25 chestnut seedlings from ACF in the park. The Stewardship Committee and Weed Warriors helped plan and prepare the locations for the seedlings, which included the laborious task of removing large invasive vines, bushes, and some dead Chestnut trees from a previous planting from 2009.
The troops will monitor the trees throughout the year and take yearly measurements for the next five years to record growth and survivorship. The seedlings are currently wrapped in tree shelters and netting to protect them from the deer and cicadas, but there is no way to protect them from their biggest threat, the chestnut blight.
This effort will offer important real-world data to help determine whether the trees are truly blight-resistant and capable of surviving in their native range. ACF uses the data to improve its breeding project and develop a stronger and more consistent blight-resistant population.
Visit the Orchard
View the Chestnut orchard on the edge of the open field area nearing the stream, alongside the Green Trail. The new seedlings are planted amongst the trees from the 2009 planting, so the grove has some older trees that you can view the “cankers” on.